As Discovery Communications moves toward the introduction of its Destination America cable network at the end of May, it has lured one of its first major sponsors in the form of Clorox Co.'s Kingsford charcoal briquettes.
The marketer will be a heavy sponsor of a new season of "BBQ Pitmasters," said James Levitt, VP-national sales manager of the network. "You'll see them interwoven throughout the entire series," he said, including products placed in episodes as well as promotional messaging tied into the program in the ad breaks.
Discovery has kept fireworks to a minimum around Destination America, a network whose programming is meant to appeal to broad audiences regardless of their political or spiritual affiliations. "The best way to launch a network is to build slowly," said Marc Etkind, senior VP for content strategy at the fledgling operation. "We're just trying to go slowly and cautiously, and we really know you can't build a network overnight."
Those words may sound at odds with the recent hoopla accorded to another Discovery venture -- the Oprah Winfrey Network, in which Discovery holds a 50% stake -- but they also serve to illustrate a strategy that is crucial to Discovery's future. While the company is best known for its eponymous flagship network and the more tabloid-y TLC, Discovery owns a host of second-tier channels that it is trying to turn into more attractive viewing options. Discovery ID was once the Discovery Times Channel, which had been fueled with content from The New York Times but did not get far. Male-skewing Velocity rose from the ashes of Discovery HD Theater. And Destination America is taking the place of Planet Green, whose original focus on the environmental movement didn't strike a big chord with viewers.
To help ease the transition, Discovery has tested various pieces of programming on Planet Green's air for weeks, Mr. Etkind said. The new programming will consist of about 100 new hours of shows along with rebroadcasts of other programming from across the Discovery empire that plays on the channel's themes. Travel and food are two topics that will get a strong showing on Destination America, along with possible looks at American jobs and unique American families.
In addition to a new season of "BBQ Pitmasters," which previously ran on sibling network TLC, Destination America will run programs such as "Fast Food Mania," a look at unusual creations from the nation's legion of fast-food outlets; "Super Duper Thrill Rides," an examination of popular roller-coasters; and "United States of Food," another chronicling of foodstuffs that Americans seem to love.
All Planet Green sponsors have opted to keep their advertising on Destination America when the channel switches over, Mr. Levitt said. And 12 new advertisers have joined the channel in advance of its debut, including marketers of food and beverages, auto makers, insurance companies, and makers of home-improvement products such as Mitsubishi Electric, which will advertise a new cooling and heating system.
Other TV networks can boast of American-themed programming, from Food Network's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" to Travel Channel's "Truck Stop USA." But Discovery hopes to collect enough programming with similar themes to lure those series' viewers.
While "there sure are a heck of a lot of differences in this country," said Henry Schleiff, a Discovery president and general manager who oversees Destination America, there are also some themes that bring people together, including "our love of the American Dream, our love of America. That supersedes our differences, and this is a network that will serve that audience."